It was the amazing light that attracted me to this scene rather than the cathedral itself. The cathedral is utterly stunning, but from such a close distance, visually it didn’t really appeal to me as a subject for painting. (And being so close I also wasn’t able to get any decent reference photos!) What did appeal however was a fleeting moment when the sun came out from the gloom, bathing the buildings in front of Notre-Dame with a soft glow that really stood out against a dark and foreboding sky.
It’s taken me a long time to pluck up the courage to tackle this view as it’s quite epic! It contains such a large amount of architectural detail and people. In an effort to cope with all this complexity, I started with a much more detailed sketch than I would normally do, but I wanted to be sure I had all the elements in place and that the perspectives were correct before I started splashing paint on. I was also planning this to be a ‘light’ painting, where the painting would, in a way, hang onto the drawing. (As you can probably tell however, this changed quite quickly once I got started but the detailed drawing was, nevertheless, really invaluable.)
This is one of those paintings that, as I was painting it, I was having such a good time. I was really enjoying myself – and felt that this would also shine through. As it progressed however, I became increasingly tight. I began to pursue smaller details, unbeknowingly at the time at the expense of the the overall picture.
Now when I look at this, I see the tightness – not the enjoyment. There’s still much I do like, the contrast between the sky and the buildings, I like much of the architectural work and detailing, and the long queue of people in the background. The foreground figures however became hugely overworked as I fiddled and faffed about with them as I tried to get them right – only to see at the end that I’d painted nearly all of them in pairs, and nearly all at the same scale!
Even as I write this, I already have another outline sketch of this on the go. I don’t want to copy this and eradicate the elements I don’t like, but to repaint it with an altogether different spirit! I want to try to approach this with a much greater sense of abandon, of freedom and fearlessness. I’d like to paint the whole scene ‘wetter’ – not in terms of weather conditions, but in terms of my palette – with much more loaded brushtrokes. I’d like put the spirit of my next attempt above anything else.
Haha, bold words indeed and I’m already feeling the weight of expectation hanging over me – I’m already intrigued to see where this may lead!